A Guardian Cub For Your Real Money and Your Fake Gold

A Guardian Cub pet stands near a dwarf in Stormwind.

Picture courtesy of Blizzard

I really was hoping I’d manage to stay away from controversial topics so early on into re-entry into blogging, but Blizzard had to go and drop the bomb today on their blog – they will be selling a new Guardian companion pet, and yes, that you can buy it for real money and sell it for in-game gold in World of Warcraft:

While our goal is to offer players alternative ways to add a Pet Store pet to their collection, we’re ok with it if some players choose to use the Guardian Cub as a safe and secure way to try to acquire a little extra in-game gold without turning to third-party gold-selling services. However, please keep in mind that there’s never any guarantee that someone will purchase what you put up for sale in the auction house, or how much they’ll pay for it. Also, it’s important to note that we take a firm stance against buying gold from outside sources because in most cases, the gold these companies offer has been stolen from compromised accounts. (You can read more about our stance here.) While some players might be able to acquire some extra gold by putting the Guardian Cub in the auction house, that’s preferable to players contributing to the gold-selling “black market” and account theft.

It is a very small pet that has a lot of ideas and intriguing concepts attached to it and it is making people mad already. I can’t say that I’m too terribly bothered or surprised about it though. Some info about me – I’m a fairly die-hard pet collector but unlike my in-game character, I am not profuse with the riches of Azeroth. My bank alt is probably richer than I am, even if you valued the gold at the same prices that gold-sellers do. I don’t make a ton of cash to spend on pets from the store. Most of the ones I have have been very generously given to me by my friends or my partner. This is one of the reasons why I don’t actually  have a huge collection of trading card pets; they just are way too expensive and are only sold on speciality sites or EBay. One of the few I’ve managed to wrangle was via in-game trade only and that was the Spectral Tiger Cub. I bought it off a Horde player via our realm forums for 30,000 gold (which was a lot back in Wrath) and took a significant risk with my fake game money by doing it that way. He could have easily scammed me (which is one of the things that Blizzard mentioned in their blog post, I really suggest you reading it top to bottom) but thankfully I came away with an adorable pet that ranks as one of my favorites. Nevertheless, it is the scarcity of the mount plus the relatively prohibitive cost on Ebay that keeps me from getting a matching Spectral Tiger ride.

The goal I think with this pet is not to have it behave like the other store pets that have come before it. Like others have said, it doesn’t even have the basic bind-on-account functionality that sends the pet to all your toons on your Battle.net account. The value of the pet is that it is single-use and bind-on-equip, allowing it to be sold or obtained in a couple different ways. They probably dropped the BOA aspect of the pet in order to really watch the amount of trading that might occur without winnowing the market down unnecessarily by allowing someone to buy one and get it on all their characters. That way you can buy one from the store for your pet-collecting main (like I might) or use gold down the line to buy it for all your alts that you want it on. The initial veneer of this pretty much speaks to the fact that Blizzard definitely wants to see people have the ability to afford the pet in a way that suits them best; whether this is real money or fake money is up to the person purchasing.

Most of the transactions will probably crest on this, if you had to ask me. However, that bolded part in the quote above is the real meat of the matter. Blizzard wants to throw their hat into the ring when it comes to gold-selling. Turn a tiny portion of it away from wholly illegal and illegitimate means that quite frequently steal player accounts and use slave labor to acquire the gold in the first place and turn it into a revenue stream for the company. I think people who are saying that this makes Blizzard no better than “gold sellers spamming trade” is rather disingenuous. First, the reason gold selling companies spam you and go to great lengths to advertise in your face is because that’s what you have to do to get someone to notice the black market. They are trying to divert business away from Blizzard and do so by harming your accounts, as well as use free prison labor to do it in a lot of cases. Blizzard does not need to do this. By having it legally as part of their company, not only is your account not at risk by using the service (if you choose), but you know that the money is going somewhere a little less unsavory than an operation that abuses their employees or other prison workers.

The real problem with Blizzard getting into this racket is that most people see the biggest problem of gold-selling is not necessarily what I mentioned (black market stealing) but that someone gains a real in-game benefit by acquiring gold via their own  money in the real world. That someone can work a shift or use their parent’s credit card and buy enough gold to purchase a BOE item. I for one have never really felt threatened by someone who does that. I’ve only ever been concerned with those people who choose to gold-buy because of what kind of disgusting industry it DOES support. But for people who are not me, the biggest concern is that someone will be able to buy BOEs and they won’t, because they do not have enough time to make enough gold to buy a BOE, much less make enough money to buy it any other way. Buying your way into power has long been a prickly point of mine in the real world, but I feel it falls flat in World of Warcraft, where someone else’s game progression with gear largely does not affect my own enjoyment in-game. Maybe it is because I have access to raiding gear, but that probably takes the sting out a bit more (And that is a conversation for another time.)

I inadvertently stumbled on the crux of this issue while discussing it amongst friends on Twitter – this is a way of Blizzard profiting off what has long been a locked-off problematic black market attached to their underbelly. Even if you look at the fact that people have been buying gold off their guildies and friends since basically the time the game started (especially in the form of game cards), you can definitely see why Blizzard would want a piece of that pie.

The real amusing part of all of this to me is that unlike availing yourself of illegal gold-buying services, that players choosing to use this as a way of making money via the auction house in-game are going to be subject to the same problems other pet-sellers and regular AH users run into all the time – the value of your real life money will be dependent on your server’s economy! Risks abound as well as AH barons out to control markets and undercut you. Anyone looking to make a bit of cash by buying it via the store and selling it in-game will have to contend with any other number of people trying to sell it as well. Pets and mounts have a limited niche of people who will spend the gold on those kinds of vanity items, especially in great excess. Given that the rarity of the pet is near 0, it cannot even profit on that, unlike TCG pets or hard-to-find pets and mounts in-game like the Reins of Poseidus or raptor hatchlings. Like the criticism that came with Blizzard announcing the Diablo 3 auction house, the profits to be made on this will be hard-won, if able to be gained at all. The other downside to this is that you cannot sell it for gold and pass it back out of game as real money, unlike D3 as well.

I find this to be not a real cause for concern as it still does not confer a tangible benefit to gameplay other than what you can purchase later whatever gold you make off with from someone buying the pet. If anything, this is probably a way of Blizzard testing how RMT might work one-way in game before they launch Titan. If anything, we just know this is more grist for Blizzard’s money mill.